Category Archives: London

Movie Magic…All Aboard The Hogwarts Express

Everywhere you turn, London’s sights and sounds mesmerize.  When I was there in February, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Warner Brothers Studio in Leavesden, just outside of London.  The studio is where the Harry Potter movies were filmed, and they’ve opened some of the sets to visitors.  I purchased my tickets through a third-party site, which offered me transportation to the studio, as well as entrance to the tour.

While queuing up to enter the tour, various props hang from the ceiling, and visitors file past a mock-up of the cupboard under the stairs that Harry slept in.  Visitors file through into a theatre and take their seats in front of a giant screen.  Cast and crew members take the screen to share with visitors how magical it was for them to work on such an amazing set.  Artists and craftspeople worked their magic to bring the sights of Hogwarts alive, leaving no detail untouched.

After the film ends, the screen raises up and visitors are instantly transported to the giant doors that lead into the Great Hall of Hogwarts.IMG_1871.jpg  Once the doors open, visitors move onto the set and stand where Harry, Ron, Hermione and all the other students ate there meals and listened to Dumbledore spout out his mysterious riddles.  IMG_1880.jpg

Various costumes are on display through out the Great Hall.  While I was there, the studio had the Sorting Hat on display, which is usually kept in archives.

Visitors shuffle through the side of the Great Hall into a giant room filled with various props and set pieces.  The Weasley’s kitchen is on display, as well as Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, and the dormitory.  Visitors can also file past the classroom of Professor Snape, with potions brewing.  It’s pretty amazing that set designers and decorators put so much work into bringing the stories to life on the big screen.

Platform 9 3/4 is the next stop, with the Hogwarts Express steaming up and ready to take the next batch of students to Hogwarts.  Visitors can enter the passenger cars, and look into the compartments where some of the scenes were filmed.  Each compartment is decorated to the theme of each film.IMG_1939.jpg

It may be time for a break, so the next stop on the visit is a large seating area with a place to purchase food and sample some butter beer.  I didn’t try the butter beer, but others on the tour seemed to like it.  Looking back, I probably should’ve given it a try.

While waiting for the next portion of the tour to open, visitors can step outside to view some of the outdoor sets.  There’s the Knight Bus that whisks harry from Privet Drive to the Leaky Cauldron after he causes Aunt Marge to take flight.  The Dursley’s home on Privet Drive is also on display, as well as Harry’s childhood home in Godric’s Hollow.  The giant chess pieces were also on display.

After getting a good look around at everything in this portion of the tour, visitors are then sent on a walk down Diagon Alley.  The shop fronts are decorated as though another Harry Potter film is about to be shot.  IMG_1968.jpg

The final portion of the tour leads visitors to a ‘miniature’ of Hogwarts Castle.  This was breathtaking!  I’ve always had a fascination with miniatures, so I was like a kid in a candy store when I came across this.  Now, you’re probably thinking of those little light-up houses you put out for Christmas.  No, this is a HUGE miniature.  The lighting changes so you can see it in the daylight and at night.  IMG_1979.jpg

I looked in the gift shop to see if I could find a miniature to take home with me, but it was much too crowded to really do any browsing.

For more pics of my London trip, including pics from my visit to the Harry Potter sets, click here.

For information about the tour from the official website, click here.

For Golden Tours UK, where I purchased my tour package that included transportation, click here.

If a trip to London isn’t on your radar anytime soon, YouTube is an awesome place to get a little taste of tourism.  Several people have filmed their tours, and here is my favorite:

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Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle sits in the quaint village of Windsor, which is just a short train ride west of London.  With just a quick change in Slough, you’re there in no time. It may seem like a hassle to leave London, but it is definitely worth it and not as difficult as you might think.  I had The London Pass, which not only granted me admission to the castle, but also got me from London Paddington to the village of Windsor.  I wasn’t sure if it included the return trip (it only mention the trip out to Windsor), so I just purchased a cheap ticket back into London when I was ready to go back.

Now, I’m a sucker for anything that has to do with the British Royal Family.  I greatly admire the Queen, especially, and would probably faint or die of a heart attack if I were to be invited to meet her.  Windsor Castle, for me, was a definite MUST for my trip to London.  My trip would not have felt complete.

First off, you should get there early.  I arrived about 15 minutes before the gates opened, and I’m glad I did.  I looked back, and there was already a huge line waiting behind me to get in.  Also, be sure to check that the Queen isn’t in residence, which you can do from her official website, or the Royal Collection.  With The London Pass, I received fast-track entry, and completely bypassed the lines.  Once through the entryway, I was immediately captivated by the breathtaking sight.  Perfectly clipped grass lead up to the medieval masonry of the walls that made up the castle.  The Union Flag flapped in the wind, and the clouds scurried away.  I walked down a pathway that immediately lead me to imagine the millions of people who had walked the same path since the middle ages.  IMG_1996Would Henry VIII have walked through here at one point?  How about Queen Victoria?  Perhaps, even my own idol, Queen Elizabeth II?  Did people in medieval times really dress like they were in an episode of Game of Thrones?  Oh, to be able to listen to the conversations that were had by the people who lived hundreds of years ago.

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After freezing and looking around the outside, I followed the cobblestone pathway past Saint George’s Chapel to the entrance of the State Apartments.  Sadly, photography is strictly prohibited in the interiors, so I only have my memories of this portion of my visit.  I was so amazed, however, that I doubt those memories will ever fade.  I was ushered into a darkened room where Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House sits.  What an amazing piece of craftsmanship!  The dolls’ house was definitely fit for a queen, and no detail was spared.  I’ve always had a fascination with miniatures, so this was right up my alley.

I moved through into the meat and potatoes of the tour: the State Apartments.  I was completely in awe of everything I saw.  There were suits of armor, priceless paintings and furniture, ornate details and designs.  I was overcome with emotion when I walked through these rooms.  I could imagine kings, queens, princes, and princesses walking through these corridors, dining at the tables, and lounging on the chairs and couches I passed by.  There was one table in particular that I passed by, which had a ring on it from a glass that didn’t have a coaster under it.  I could imagine that being caused by cheeky old Prince Phillip saying, “I don’t need a bloody coaster!”

I wonder what the castle is like from the perspective of a young prince or princess.

I truly cannot say enough wonderful things about Windsor Castle.  I could write for days and break the internet with my inane ramblings about it, but I won’t.  Windsor Castle should be on everyone’s list when they visit London.  If you have another hour to spare, here’s a great video about the castle and its history.  In the video, you will be shown the State Apartments, as well as Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House.

Cheap and Lonely in London

London is, by far, my favorite city in the world.  London had been calling my name for a few years now, and the stars finally aligned.  I hopped on a British Airways flight from Seattle, and had the time of my life.  The first question out of everyone’s mouths before I left was, “Aren’t you afraid of going on your own”.

I love traveling by myself.  Usually, I’m not truly alone.  Along with all the voices in my head, I also have friends in most major cities across Europe and Australia.  Traveling alone gives me the opportunity to meet up with them for dinner while I’m in travel status, but I also get to enjoy the sights and sounds at my own pace.  I’m pretty selfish with my time, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t mind traveling with someone special.  Until that miracle happens, I’m content to travel and enjoy the world on my own.

Back to London…if you have any intention of traveling there, a definite MUST is the London Pass.  This saved me so much money!  I do love the finer things in life, but I have to obtain those finer things on a budget.  I purchased the 3 Day Pass with an added Oyster Travelcard.  The Oyster card is for the London Underground, which is the best way to get from point A to point B in the city.  Not only do you get admission to tons of London attractions with the London Pass, but you also get fast tracked through the lines!  Sorry, giant tour groups at Windsor Castle, I’m going in first!  The London Pass makes it so easy, and saves you so much money.

London is notoriously expensive.  Since I wasn’t planning any romantic dates, I Groupon-ed my way through the city, as far as eating is concerned.  About two months before I left, I signed up for a Groupon (UK) account.  It won’t recognize your American account, so yes, you will have to sign up for this account separately.  There are so many great deals on afternoon tea, as well as lunches and dinners.  By doing all this, I was able to survive for the week on £200 cash.  I took a couple of taxi rides, used some for tips, and a few odds and ends, and still had about £45 left over.

If you find yourself in London for a few days, and want a truly amazing adventure, book an excursion through Golden Tours for the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour.  Golden Tours made it incredibly easy to get from London to Leavesden, where the Warner Bros. Studio is located.  Here, you get to walk through some of the actual sets from the Harry Potter movie series, and see hundreds of props and costumes that were used.  You also get a peek inside the magic behind the movies.  It was truly an incredible experience.

You can check out all my London (including the Harry Potter Studio Tour) pictures here.